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Leasing of Uchchamunai peninsula likely to uproot 400 families of early settlers

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US$ 400mn hotel project

By Sanath Nanayakkare

Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) is moving towards establishing new tourism resorts under eco-tourism concept, and an agreement was signed on May 11, 2022 to build an eco-friendly hotel project worth US$ 417.5 million in Uchchamunai peninsula in the proposed Kalpitiya integrated tourism resort project.

All Ceylon Tourism Service Providers Association (ACTSPA) that visited the peninsula recently told The Island Financial Review that the lease agreement signed for a period of 30 years with a Switzerland-based company is aimed at driving much needed Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) to the country, but doubt whether SLTDA has paid enough attention to the project’s impact on its innocent early settlers and pristine island habitat.

Suranjith Wevita, Secretary ACTSPA said, “According to The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), eco-tourism is responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the wellbeing of local people. This means those who implement and participate in eco-tourism activities should follow eco-tourism principles. They should minimise environmental impact, respect cultural norms of the community, provide positive experiences for both visitors as well as residents and enable financial benefits and empowerment for local people.”

“During our visit to Uchchamunai, we observed that the residents were a water-locked, Tamil speaking indigenous community who still lead the lifestyle of a primitive people. No one has told them that their peninsula is going to be part of a Tourism Master Plan of SLTDA.

About 400 families live in Uchchaminai. There are four churches and a school. Several leading local conglomerates have done some commendable social responsibility work for the wellbeing of this community. They told us that what they only knew was some time ago, a helicopter flew so low and took pictures of their land and the 13 islets adjacent to it. They have been told nothing about a mega hotel project being planned to be built in the island they have been living for hundreds of years.”

“The Tourism Master Plan has proposed housing for these people, but they haven’t been made aware of it either. They have a right to know that their day-to-day life is not going to be the same in the near future when this FDI project takes off.”

“Uchchamunai is one of the most beautiful islands in the North Western region. It is a bio diversity hotspot. It has a diverse ecological system ranging from bar reefs, flat coastal plains, salt marshes, mangrove forests and sand dune beeches with significant potential for tourism. SLTDA should have the vision to create a niche offering of community-based tourism in Uchchamunai with greater sustainability, instead of establishing an artificial resort island which is commonplace in many tourism destinations in the world.”

“In fact, Uchchamunai as a community-based tourism island will attract tourists to discover it in its absolute natural formation and not as an artificial, built-environment. Stressed foreign travellers would love to relax in a place like that. They will appreciate and respect the traditional culture, rituals and conventional wisdom of these primitive people. Of course, tourist accommodation and facilities should be of sufficient standard for the visitors. But there will be many tourists who will look for simple, rural accommodation and food because that will be the whole purpose of their visit. They won’t seek star class hospitality in an eco-friendly island. Thus the residents will play a bigger role in the service jobs and earn a good income which won’t be the case in a star class hotel operation. Hotel developers will definitely bring in professional service providers and the real owners of the island will be marginalised in their own territory. Do you think it’s fair?”

“When the islanders are the beneficiaries of truly authentic eco-tourism, they will be aware of the commercial and social value placed on their natural and cultural heritage. That will foster community-based conservation of these resources.”

“We shouldn’t ignore the fact that this community’s main livelihood is fishing and they lead a very simple, contented life showing gratitude for what they already have and not aiming for ‘vistas of prosperity’. So it remains to be seen how they will take to being uprooted from their contented life in their so peaceful island,” ACTSPA secretary said.

However, according to Kalpitiya Urban Development Plan 2021-2030, the resident people have ”demonstrated” their eagerness to this tourism sector development through the establishment of trade stalls to carry out businesses related to tourism.

Making reference to environment, the Development Plan further says: “The ocean, the lagoon and the islets form an array of diverse eco systems providing home to an equally diverse life forms of both fauna and flora some of which are endemic, have naturally become ‘very sensitive and fragile’ beside their scenic beauty and exploration curiosity.”

In addition to concerns on the residents and the environment, the fact that SLTDA signed the above agreement with the Switzerland-based company on May 11, 2022 when there was virtually no government in place let alone a minister of tourism to authorise it, could raise questions of its legal position at some point in the future. The Island Financial Review posed this question at Kimarli Fernando former chairperson of SLTDA through her secretary on May 19, five days before her resignation to which a response had been pending.



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An all-party government can’t fix the problem quickly, Harsha tells foreign media

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* IMF bailout is not coming any time soon

* Opposition is caught between a rock and a hard place

*  We have to fix the twin deficits

* Unless there is agreement across political parties, we can’t get it done

By Sanath Nanayakkare

Opposition Member of Parliament Dr. Harsha de Silva discussed the crises facing Sri Lanka with Bloomberg Market Asia recently where he said an all-party government would have legitimacy unlike the current administration and would give hope to the people of this country, but there is no guarantee that it can fix the problem quickly.

The interview he had with Bloomberg went as follows.

Q. How close is Sri Lanka to an IMF bailout?

The issue is not about an IMF bailout. It is about restructuring Sri Lanka’s debt. We have to restructure our debt with multiple parties such as official creditors, the republic of China, private creditors, international sovereign bond holders etc. So, unless we have either a debt restructuring deal or significant progress towards a restructuring deal, the IMF will not be able to release any money under an Extended Fund Facility even if there is a staff- level agreement any time soon.

Q. You are suggesting that the IMF bailout is not coming any time soon. How will that play out in the economy?

We have hired Lazard’s and Clifford Chance to help us deal with debt restructuring. They have not really started negotiating, and already one creditor- Hamilton Reserve Bank Ltd has filed a suit in a New York federal court against the government of Sri Lanka asking for its full payment of USD 250 million due on 25th July because we have a debt standstill. ‘Significant progress’ [perhaps referring to a term in the IMF end-of-mission statement regarding the outcome of the talks in Sri Lanka] is a subjective term. The IMF is not able to lend to us. So I am thinking perhaps this is going to take at least 5-6 months before any money would start to flow in.

Q. The economic crisis is turning into a political one. What is the Opposition doing right now to perhaps take the reins of power and make things better? What would you do if you were in power and what you want to be doing because the Opposition is going to be blamed for all hardships that are going to ensue from here?

Yes, we are caught between a rock and a hard place here. What the Opposition is going to do is try and get all Opposition parties together, which I hope will happen this week. The President isn’t willing to budge despite protests across the country asking him to step down. If that happens, it’s quite possible that an all-party government can take over and start running the country. There is no guarantee that an all-party government can fix the problem quickly, but at least there will be hope that there’s a government with legitimacy both internally and externally because right now there seems to be no legitimacy for this government. That’s what we are trying to do right now.

Q. So you like to see a government of national unity but the thing is; you will not get that for the time being. So what do you think should be at the top of the economic agenda to get things going? For instance; inflation is running at almost hyper-inflation level while there’s no fuel. It sounds like a terrible situation.

Yes, this is totally unprecedented. You know until recently Sri Lanka was an upper middle income country and today we have suddenly crashed to the bottom. For us, this is unbelievable. But in a way it was expected because over a long period of time economic reforms were postponed and postponed and postponed, and we were living beyond our means. The real breakdown happened when the President cut taxes and now we are running a massive hole in our fiscal budget and also a big hole in our current account and our Balance of Payments (BOP). We have to fix this. Without fixing these two things there is no way out. So the parliament will have to agree on undertaking large fiscal consolidation measures such as increasing taxes, rationalising subsidies/expenses and so on. So unless there is agreement across political parties, we can’t get it done and there is going to be a very difficult time negotiating the debt. Unless our debt is negotiated, we are not able to get money from the IMF. We are waiting for friendly countries and neighbours to help us but it won’t take us far.

Q. How is the Opposition assessing the proposed constitutional changes? Is it willing to vote for these reforms in parliament?

We are extremely disappointed. The President said on May 11 that he would take the country back to 19th Amendment which meant that powers he grabbed from parliament in 2020 would be restored to parliament. That’s what the people wanted because he himself admitted in public that he has not been successful in managing the country. People wanted that power to be restored to parliament and to democratise the country, but the President is not going to do that in the proposed 22nd Amendment. So we are disappointed. We want the new amendment to go through, but not this way. It should be done in the way it was pledged.

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PM’s rising debt ratio statement hits share market; CSE drops by over 1 per cent

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By Hiran H.Senewiratne

The CSE dropped by over 1 per cent within the first hour of trading yesterday in the wake of selling pressure from local and foreign investors stemming from the country’s prevailing political and social uncertainties. The pall of gloom over the market was compounded by a statement in parliament by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to the effect that Sri Lanka’s debt has shot up to 140 per cent of its gross domestic product.

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said that Sri Lanka is making progress towards a 4- year Extended Fund Facility with the International Monetary Fund. “With the IMF we hope to reduce it (debt) to 95 per cent of GDP by 2032, Wickremesinghe said.

Sri Lanka’s government debt which was Rs17,580 billion by end 2021 rose to Rs21,969 billion in March 2022, he added.

Stock analysts said that Sri Lanka’s economic uncertainties are bound to be compounded by a potential global economic recession that would likely affect the US and Europe.

Amid those developments both indices showed a downward trend. The All- Share Price Index went down by 120.9 points and S and P SL20 declined by 55.6 points. Turnover stood at Rs 916 million, without any crossings.

In the retail market, top seven companies that mainly contributed to the turnover were, Lanka IOC Rs 330 million (four million shares traded), Expolanka Holdings Rs 121 million (740,000 shares traded), LOLC Holdings Rs 54.7 million (142,000 shares traded), Browns Investments Rs 47.3 million (6.8 million shares traded), HNB Rs 36.6 million (459,000 shares traded), Elpitiya Plantations Rs 26.2 million (334,000 shares traded) and LOLC Finance Rs 23.3 million (3.7 million shares traded). During the day 52.5 million share volumes changed hands in 15000 share transactions.

Yesterday the Central Bank announced the US dollar rate. Its buying rate was Rs 355.95 and the selling rate Rs 367.29.

A guidance peg announced by the Central Bank for interbank transactions was steady at Rs 359.79 against the US dollar unchanged from a day earlier. On July 04, the guidance peg rate dropped 24 cents to Rs 359.79 against the US dollar.

Sri Lanka commercial banks offered dollars for telegraphic transfers at rates between Rs 366.79 and Rs 370.00 for small transactions yesterday, unchanged from the previous day.

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SLT-MOBITEL debuts ‘Traverse’ – Sri Lanka’s first Virtual City

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A vibrant marketplace for the digital economy

Recognising the strategic value of leveraging disruptive technologies and harnessing service offerings from a diverse supplier base, SLT-MOBITEL, the National ICT Solutions Provider debuted ‘Traverse’, Sri Lanka’s first Virtual City at the ‘Wyawasaya-2022’ Trade and Educational Exhibition held recently.

Fashioned as a city of the future, Traverse will function integrating physical and digital experiences, operating in the metaverse with matchless potential for global and borderless collaboration.

‘Traverse’ aims to provide remarkable opportunities for growth and a platform for innovation while helping Sri Lankan businesses to increase their relevance and value in the fast-expanding digital economy.

The rapid evolution of emerging and exciting technologies such as virtual reality, virtual marketplaces, digital assets and non-fungible tokens, or NFTs is providing an effective platform to deliver unique consumer experiences and drive local economic growth.

‘Traverse’ will include a shopping complex, Banks, Virtual exhibition Centre, Film Hall, Gaming zone, Government e-counters, Art gallery, etc. Business owners can purchase or rent business assets from the categories available in the virtual marketspace based on their requirements.

Adding greater value for the local business community, the Virtual City will help businesses unlock strategic partnerships and boost profitability through untapped revenue streams. Moreover, local businesses will be able to reach global audiences through cost-effective, scalable, and measurable techniques that require low investment and reduced maintenance costs. An added advantage of the Virtual City is creating a global marketplace for Sri Lankan products and services.

Recognised as a true differentiator steering digital transformation, SLT-MOBITEL is driving the country’s first experience of a virtual city by creating a crowded environment. Benefits include long-lasting exposure to an expansive market, facilitating real-time conversation using webinars and live chats, easy access on all platforms, flexibility to promote offerings together with access to trending analytics.

Unveiling the Virtual City, highlights SLT-MOBITEL’s role as an agile, innovative and digital-first provider of services, creating a dynamic roadmap with disruptive technologies driving the country’s first virtual marketplace forward.

SLT-MOBITEL invites stakeholders to collaborate and partner in this unique virtual space. For more details on ‘Traverse’ contact the hotline on 0112 389 389, WhatsApp 070 500 4000 or email: bizsolutions@slt.com.lk / Web: https://traverse.lk

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